The Tabernacle Choir Blog

What Would Handel Have Thought About the World’s Largest Virtual “Hallelujah” Chorus?

In its first week, the world’s largest virtual “Hallelujah” chorus was viewed over 300,000 times on YouTube and over twice that on Facebook. The world is embracing the amazing collaboration between the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and singers around the globe.

This begs the question, What would George Frideric Handel have thought about this huge chorus with 360+ singers, an 80+ piece orchestra, and over 2,000 additional online singers? First of all, he probably never would have imagined the possibility of a production of this size for Messiah. Secondly, when he first composed the oratorio in 1741, he was heavily in debt and had no idea what singers or musicians would be available to him. For the Dublin premiere of Messiah in 1742, there were approximately 30 cathedral-trained singers and an orchestra of around the same size.

With each performance that followed, Handel adapted the score to fit the available singers and musicians according to his budget. “Donald Burrows—the leading Handel scholar of our day—has proposed that Messiah was perhaps never performed the way Handel originally intended it, at least not during the composer’s lifetime,” said musicologist Luke Howard. 

While no one can be certain what Handel intended for the scope of Messiah, his orchestras grew in size throughout the years, and many choruses in Messiah, such as “Hallelujah,” “Worthy Is the Lamb,” “Glory to God,” and others seem to beg for a large choir. Howard adds, “Perhaps the primary considerations that prevented Handel from planning Messiah for a massed chorus and orchestra were simply the cost, the difficulty of assembling such ensembles at the time, and the lack of an available hall big enough to accommodate them.”

Handel Festival at The Crystal Palace, 1857

In the 19th century, larger halls were built and cathedral choral festivals were staged in England, which allowed for much larger audiences. In turn, new versions of Messiah were created to increase the amplitude for such audiences—most notably, Mozart’s 1789 revision added classical woodwinds and brass and also changed some rhythms and notes to fit the modern audience.

In 1857, audiences of over 20,000 watched performances of Messiah at London’s Crystal Palace, where a chorus of over 4,000 singers and an orchestra of over 500 were used.

Throughout the years, there have been many different styles of performances and recordings of Messiah, from small to large-scale, but one thing is certain—Handel’s Messiah has stood the test of time. His masterpiece has lasted over 275 years and continues to be treated with respect throughout the world.

The latest recording of the complete oratorio was a two-year process by music director Mack Wilberg, the Choir, and the Orchestra. Wilberg said, “We recognized that we needed to create something special and unique to this new recording. It required examining every note of the vocal and instrumental parts and making decisions as to what would accommodate a 360-voice choir and large orchestra and still reflect our present-day knowledge of baroque performance practices.”

The new Messiah recording is available in two formats:

Handel’s Messiah—The Complete Oratorio—This version contains every movement of Messiah on two CDs with a bonus DVD.

Handel’s Messiah—Highlights—This version includes some of the best-loved choruses with featured selections by each of the soloists. The highlights version contains over one hour of music.

Soloists:

Sonya Yoncheva, soprano

Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano

Rolando Villazón, tenor

Bryn Terfel, bass

On March 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. MDT, the Choir and Orchestra will be performing Messiah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, with two overflow venues available. Tickets are required.

The March 25 performance will be streamed live on MoTab.org starting at 7:00 p.m. MDT. Participate in the event using #MessiahLive.

Watch the world’s largest virtual “Hallelujah” chorus video above, which features 360 Choir members, 80 Orchestra members, YouTube artists Peter and Evynne Hollens, and over 2,000 virtual singers, including former guest artists Donny Osmond, Alex Boyé, and Nathan Pacheco.

For more information on all of our Messiah events, go to MoTab.org/Messiah.